With rotation uncertain, A’s ponder “openers” as camp opens
Like every other pitcher in the Oakland Athletics’ deep bullpen, Liam Hendriks is expecting to pitch a lot this season.
The tricky question for manager Bob Melvin going into spring training: Who gets to go first?
The Athletics rotation is a major uncertainty heading into camp, with the first workout for pitchers and catchers set for Monday. Of course, that’s nothing new for Melvin. Oakland’s rotation was wrecked by injuries last season, prompting the A’s to lean on their relief pitchers as “openers” to start games. With at least three spots in the rotation currently wide open, Oakland might again be forced to get creative with the early innings.
Hendriks became the most dependable in that role last season, making nine of the 10 “opener” starts for Oakland in September and October, including in the AL wildcard game against the Yankees.
The makeshift bullpen games helped the A’s earn a surprising postseason appearance, and Hendriks is eager to return to the role. He’s ready to pitch every other day if asked — “I’d love to be able to get to 81 games pitched, just to be able to say I did it,” he said.
Melvin smiled at that suggestion, but he hopes
Oakland’s staff won’t have to be quite so untraditional.
“We’re open to just about anything,” Melvin said. “But I don’t know if we’re fixated on going into spring right away saying, ‘We’re going to start with an opener on this game.’ I haven’t scheduled it out that way.”
The Athletics are getting an early start on spring training because they’re heading to Japan for a season-opening series on March 20-21. The teams will be allowed expanded 28-man rosters for those games, and Melvin expects to use the extra roster space to more carefully manage his pitchers.
“That will allow us to do things at our pace,” Melvin said. “It’s more about the pitching than anything else and making sure they’re ready. With some extra guys, it means we don’t have to push guys to try to get somebody ready to throw 100 pitches in this game (in Tokyo). I don’t know if that’s realistic.”
Besides Mike Fiers and newcomer Marco Estrada, nothing is set in the rotation. Estrada battled hip and back problems last season while with the Blue Jays, yet still made 28 starts, posting a 7-14 record and 5.64 ERA.